… It’s Bennelong Long Time, Time for a Change

Mark Erwood

The Macquarie branch of the NTEU can proudly claim a stake in helping to defeat the Liberal party at the 2007 election, and to delivering former prime minister John Howard to the dustbin of political history.

The branch was heavily involved in the `Your Rights At Work’ campaign with over 50 activists involved in making sure the largest workplace in the electorate of Bennelong understood that the Liberals and Workchoices needed to be defeated.

The branch chose to campaign around industrial relations and higher education issues, with an emphasis’ on engaging staff and students in conversations and presenting them with the realities of Liberal party policy. This approach, part of the broader ACTU campaign, was designed to let people make up their own minds about voting. Needless to say, it worked a treat.

In the lead up to the election the branch held numerous events and activities in order to talk openly with staff and students about the election, including:

  • Community forum with all candidates invited (Howard didn’t show)
  • Enrol to vote stalls, enrolling over 500 new voters
  • Workplace petitions on IR and higher education
  • Regular BBQs and stalls, up to 4 per week
  • Phone polling of over 200 NTEU members in the electorate
  • Leaflet drops in the electorate
  • Poster, leaflet and sticker runs around campus
  • Material distributed through activist networks

All these activities intensified during the 6 week campaign, and extra funding was approved for a member organiser to assist. Other NTEU staff also visited the campus to help, and more members got involved with every day that passed. Thousands of conversations about the election were generated by the efforts of the branch activists.

Bread and butter union organising around industrial issues was also important during this period. The branch continued to work hard on a number of collective disputes and personal cases, using every opportunity to educate workers about how their situation was related to the federal political environment.

During the final week of the campaign the NTEU employed a fellow unionist from another industry who had lost $300 a week in wages when her penalty rates were cut. She walked around campus to tell her story to everyone and anyone who would listen. Hearing a real story of the evils of Workchoices had a huge effect on many people.

On election day, NTEU staff and activists worked on 3 different booths in Bennelong, and one lucky activist got to shake John Howards hand as his fate was being decided by the Australian public. When he saw the Rights At Work t-shirt she was wearing, he nearly froze up completely, and she wished him a good riddance.

Mark Erwood is an Information Officer at the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union He was the NTEU Organiser at Macquarie University. This article appeared in the April 2008 edition of the Advocate, the journal of the National Tertiary Education Union. It has been reproduced with the permission of the author and the NTEU.